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Air Force Enlisted Rank (Insignia) History

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19 OCTOBER 1967 - Airman grades, titles and terms of address were revised.to make the following changes, and to restore NCO status to grade E-4 : Airman Basic (no stripes), Airman (one stripe), Airman First Class (two stripes), Sergeant (three stripes), Staff Sergeant through Chief Master Sergeant, and First Sergeants, no change.

The change of title for pay grade E-4 from Airman First Class to Sergeant restored the NCO status lost to this grade in 1952 when the Air Force adopted new titles. The elevation of E-4 to NCO status also aligned Air Force grades with the other services, and recognition of the level of qualification and performance required of airmen in grade E-4. Airmen could not be promoted to E-4 until qualified at the 5-skill level, exactly the qualification required for promotion to Staff Sergeant. As a side benefit, the prestige gained from restoring NCO status and privileges to the E-4 grade came at a time when airman were approaching their first reenlistment point. At the time the Air Force was experiencing drastic losses as many did not reenlist. It was thought that achieving NCO 26 status at the end of the first enlistment would aid in retention.

25 NOVEMBER 1969 - The uniform board met on this day and approved the wear of the black background chevrons with aluminum color stripes and star on the white mess jacket and the informal white uniform coat in lieu of the authorized white-on-white chevrons. The white-on-white chevrons were allowed to be worn until 1 January 1971, at which time the black chevrons on those uniforms would be mandatory. The white-on-white stripes had been in use since 1959.

11 AUGUST 1970 - The uniform board directed that enlisted personnel will wear three inch chevrons on the tan 1505 shortsleeve shirts.

4 DECEMBER 1970 - In search of an appropriate chevron for enlisted personnel to wear on their raincoats, the uniform board approved the concept of allowing.a plastic rank insignia to be worn on the collar. In addition, the use of such a plastic chevron was developed for use on the lightweight blue jacket and utility shirt.

21 SEPTEMBER 1971 - After various reactions to the plastic chevrons, the uniform board recommended further field testing, using both plastic and metal collar chevrons on the men's and women's raincoat, lightweight blue jacket, topcoat, utility shirt and organizational white medical uniforms.

23 AUGUST 1974 - General David C. Jones, the USAF Chief of Staff, approved the wear of metal collar chevrons by enlisted personnel on the raincoats, men's optional topcoat, lightweight blue jacket, medical and dental whites and the food handler's coat. This ended a seven year debate begun in 1967. However, General Jones stressed that the use of traditional sleeve chevrons on other uniforms be maintained to the maximum extent practical.

30 DECEMBER 1975 - The E-2 through E-4 rank chevrons were reviewed in December 1975 during a CORONA TOP meeting which examined a proposed three tier enlisted force organization. A new criteria for advancement to NCO status was decided and announced to the major commands on 30 December 1975. A key aspect of the new program was a new insignia for Senior Airmen and below. The insignia would sport a blue star instead of a silver star in the center of the chevrons.

JANUARY-FEBRUARY 1976 - To institute the change by 1 March 1976, liaison with the Institute of Heraldry and the Army and Air Force Exchange Service began to insure that the new insignia would be readily available. However, there was difficulty in obtaining the new blue-star chevrons because of normal lead time required by the garment industry to change to the new insignia. On 27 January 1976 the Institute of Heraldry advised the garment industry of the new Air Force requirements, and by 12 February 1976 Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) Pentagon Liaison office advised the Air Force that the insignia sources would be ready to supply by 1 March as desired.

However, late in February it was obvious that the garment industry could not support the 1 March date. Therefore, major commands were notified by Headquarters Air Force to postpone the implementation of the new rank until 1 June 1976.

1 JUNE 1976 - Because of the difficulty encountered in obtaining the new insignia at all bases throughout the Air Force, Consolidated Base Personnel offices were requested to insure that Base Clothing Stores and Base Exchanges were taking action to insure availability of the new insignia to meet requirements at their installation. The situation was complicated by the transfer of responsibility for Military Clothing Sales to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service during this period. The final result was a decision for AAFES to "force-feed" the requirements for each base directly to the Defense Personnel Service Center for the first 90 days following implementation on 1 June 1976.

Information courtesy of U.S. Air Force News Service, and the Air Force Historical Research Agency

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